R. E. BREACH
In which Dick Harrington escapes from the clutches of mysterious marauders, and Eileen receives a visit from a pert feminine rival.
HARRINGTON regained consciousness with a start. A window in the opposite wall was open and the cold air blew across his face. He had a clearer memory of a body silhouetted against the opaque square of the window, a beckoning hand, and a muttered command to "get a move on." Whoever it had been was friendly to him, and he wondered if it could have been
Tommy. Suddenly he discovered that his bonds were cut. It was time to be moving. He raised himself on his elbow, and began to edge along the floor to the window. The voices in the next room had lowered. He caught tantalizing fragments of sentences—disconnected words —but nothing tangible. His ears, still ringing from the blow on his head, refused to perform their office. Much as he wished to linger, to crawl to the door to endeavor to hear more of that conversation, he knew that if he would'live he must follow his unknown rescuer.
The window opened on a wall of green foliage, so dense that that side of the shack lay in dusk even at noonday. Cautiously he dragged himself on his knees and looked out. There was no one in sight. The window had been barred with iron and provided with a strong iron catch. These had been cut with
These had been neatly cut with some powerful instrument. A sudden movement in the room behind cut short his investigation. He crawled through the window-.
He looked to right and left, expecting to hear sound or see signal from his rescuer. But there was no sign of any human being.
The grass below the windows showed the marks of feet, but was too thick and long to show a definite imprint. It behooved him to hurry. He slid into the mass of foliage and edged round to the front of the shack.
"LJ ERE in the cool greenness of
-*• the trees his mind cleared and his head stopped throbbing.
He was loath to go away, for he believed that he had been very near to the solution of the mystery. These men knew Eileen.
One of them hated her, and suspected him, because of her. He wished he had seen him—the chief. Where had he heard that title before? Memory brought back to him the picture of Fergus, the young mounted policeman, boasting of how he would bring in the chief—the leader of the bootleggers. He was willing to bet that these were the wanted men.
What did they want of him?
He had never seen any of these men, let alone interfered with
them. Yet the runners believed he was a spy on them, while on the other hand, the police, according to Bowden, thought that he was a bootlegging agent. He was likely to have an interesting time between them. He racked his mind to discover why either party should think him interested. And the mystery of his unknown rescuer, who had so suddenly disappeared. It could hardly have been the police who suspected him of being in league with the bootleggers, and it was certainly not the bootleggers themselves, for they entertained plans for the sudden taking-off of spotters.
Somewhere there was a connecting link that bound him to the line of crime and lawlessness that trailed the continent on the heels of this dastardly traffic. Murder, robbery, on land and sea. The old pirates, slumbering fifty fathoms deep or swinging fifty feet high on their gibbets, had returned to earth once more. No longer they luffed their white-sailed brigs, or rode sweating mules to the gates of shrieking treasure cities. Swift launches darted in and out of wooded bays, and automobiles, beautiful and swift as messengers of the ancient gods, carried filthy cargoes to feed the new generation of fools. How many innocents had fallen victim to those freebooters, then as now, and none more innocent than Eileen.
He believed that it was through Eileen that he had fallen under suspicion of both police and criminals. He did not know how or why, nor could he guess. But he
knew the girl was innocent.] Often he had pondered on what sort of man would let a woman suffer for his crime. He had his answer. He had heard this man return foul badinage for her self-sacrificing silence, and offer her death for the life she had left him. For the police he did not care. He had always considered them stupid, meddling, paid hounds to track deer. But with these men he now had a feud. It would be a fight to the death.
His mind was very clear and active. He felt no weariness or weakness in spite of his long ride or the heavy blow on his head. Action was what was wanted. He had done with consulting with over-cautious men like Bowden, or the clumsy tactics of the police. With his characteristic dash and energy, he believed that the best way to win a fight was to force the fighting—to parody the old saw, he fights best who hits first. He slid down the tree and went around to the front of the shack.
At the back, and at the side where he was now concealed, the trees pressed against the house. On the front, facing the road, and towards the town, the shack stood clear. The men who had lured him inside were in the front room, and he wanted to get a good look at them. When he came to the edge of the trees he could again hear the murmur of their voices. He felt for his automatic, but it was gone. Doubtless they had gone through his clothes while he iay unconscious. He was not much concerned, for in an open fight one gun against three would be of little use. Strategy was the weapon on which he must rely.
A tall lilac bush grew close to the window which opened into the front room of the shack. It stood breast-high, affording behind its dark foliage sufficient shelter for a man standing back against the wall. Harrington dropped to his knees, crawled across the few feet of open space, and worked himself cautiously in behind the lilac. By taking advantage of the light wind that constantly stirred the branches he managed to get near enough to the window to see into the room.
There were two men there, who lolled on benches against the wall, keeping watch on the door behind which they supposed their prisoner was lying. One was a tall dark muscular man, with a long moustache, probably the leader of the Italians; the second, a meagre, red-faced, sandy-haired individual, with a nervous habit of continually clearing his throat.
The Italian was uneasy. He kept looking at his watch, listening for noises outside the shack. Now and then he glanced at a second door in the room. Harrington judged from his actions that the third man of the party, the Chief, was in that room. He wondered why they delayed when every moment must be precious to them.
At last the Italian’s uneasiness got the better of his awe of his superior, for he rose with a muttered oath and strode to the door.
“How much longer are you going to be?” he said, in sibilant but correct English. “I tell you, chief or no chief, I won’t wait any longer. I’ve no mind to spend the night in the old Scotchman’s cellar with ten feet of police rope round my shins.”
There was no answer, and the Italian looked at his squint-eyed companion, who gave vent to whatever apprehension he felt by a half-articulate:
“Aw—he’s loadin’ hisself up.”
THE door was suddenly pushed against the waiting man’s face so that he jumped back, startled, grasping at his great beak. Harrington at first could not see the third man’s face, because his back was toward him, but his figure was small and slight, like a boy’s. His was the musical voice that had bidden him enter the cabin. He waited further developments, scarcely breathing in his intense interest. “Well, what now?” the third f / man demanded.
* “Whatever you’re going to do
with this man,” growled the dark fellow, “do it quick, and let’s get out of here. I’ve done a good many crazy things for you, Chief, but this here sitting in broad daylight under the noses of the police, is the craziest.” “Don’t you worry about what I’m going to do. I’ll fix him all right, and then I’m going to get her. I was puzzled over this business a while back, but it’s all clear to me now. When these religious janes get going they don’t mind selling a man out any way they can, if they think it will save his immortal soul.”
“Aw—you’re crazy,” broke in the red-haired man. “The girl doesn’t know a thing about it. When you get sniffing the snow you sure do see things. Let her alone, and let’s beat it.”
“Bit soft on her yourself, weren’t you?” said the chief, and the man’s veins swelled at the taunt. “Are you going to let this spotter cut you out? Listen to me; I’ve got the whole thing worked out. She left A ancouver and came right here where we are working, and this man met her at the station, and off she goes with him. Do you think the police would let her out of their hands if she hadn’t turned king’s evidence? Do you know that Holland came with her right to Wymore, and gave her up to this fellow? Isn’t that proof? If theyhaven’t promised to let her off if she’d give me away, I’m a fool. She’s selling us out, you can bet on that!”
“If she’d opened her mouth at the trial you wouldn't have got off so easily. Why do you think she has turned agi’n you now? How would she know where y-ou are. anyway?” cried the red-headed man.
“That’s what I’m going to find out,” srid the chief “Bring him in and we’ll have it out of him.”
“Better take him to headquarters and get it out of him there,” said the Italian. “You may be interrupted here.”
“You do as you’re told, or you get out for good. See? And if you go, remember that you lose your slice of the dough. That’s the agreement, isn’t it?”
THE two satellites cursed under their breath, but started obediently for the door. The chief turned and came towards the window, and Harrington saw his face clearly. For the second time that morning, the world whirled about him. For the face of the man was the face of Eileen.
Feature for feature, how like and yet how different. Her dark eyes, but blue-circled, and with cat-like expanding pupils. Her fair hair, but matted and thin, the same pointed chin and delicate mouth, but lined and twisted. And the soul that looked out from the mask of Eileen’s face was dark, cruel and bitter. Only the same mother could have produced two moulds so much alike, but how evil a fate had poured in them such dissimilar spirits. He had no doubt—this man was Eileen’s brother, and he knew also that this was the Jerry that she was shielding.
Her brother—and his heart raced. There could be no rival, then, to his love. He summoned for her sake all the forces of strength, courage and resourcefulness at his disposal. It would be a fight for life, and for Eileen.
He heard the shambling footsteps of the men moving toward the door. In another moment they would find out the loss of their captive. Caution warned him to move, and quickly. Once on the high road he could easily outdistance them, or in the trees outmanoeuvre these clumsy woodsmen. But a strange wild plan moved in his brain, one of those puckish acts, whimsical as well as daring, that had earned for him his sobriquet of Wild Dick. He reached into his pocket and drew forth a pencil and a folded sheet of white paper. Pressing the paper against the smooth side of the logs behind him, he began to mark on it. His long, smooth fingers worked quickly and unerringly. His face wore a puckered smile, as of one who is both satisfied and entertained by his work. From inside the shack came the sudden rush of feet, and tense, smothered speech. He folded his paper into the form of an arrow, and leaning free of the bush, shot it into the room.
IT FELL at the feet of the Italian. In sudden silence they picked up the missive and unfolded it. Leaning forward again, Harrington saw that they had forgotten for the moment the loss of their prisoner. Their mouths gasped—the Italian crossed himself. It was his moment. With a bound he gained the shelter of the trees and ran towards the town. Fifty yards through the trees, he heard the slamming of the shack door and the crashing of heavy bodies through the bushes. But he ran silently, flitting from tree to tree, invisible in his dust-colored clothes. Once he heard an indiscreet shot—a mad act which he attributed to the chief. But the noises of pursuit soon fell far behind him, and when he came to the edge of the clearing where the town was beginning to stir to life after its uneasy night, he was walking as casually as if he had not narrowly escaped death ten minutes before.
THE tall girl, standing on her threshold, recalled Eileen abruptly from her land of dreams. These were the first strangers who had come to the clearing, but she knew well the tradition of hospitality which was maintained in the mountain settlements. Little as she might feel in the mood for the entertainment of guests, an intrusion at what she felt was the crisis of her life, she could not refuse food and shelter to strangers. She opened the door wide.
“Won’t you come inside?” she said, smiling at the girl. “We can give you a meal and shelter for the night, if you wish it.”
The stranger nodded as though she had anticipated the offer, but she did not express any thanks.
“Have you stabling for my ponies?” she demanded. “Yes, to the left, there, a few yards away. Please tell your man to keep inside the fence. There is a deep drop there. He’ll find empty stalls and plenty of hay.”
“Put the ponies in, then, Francois, and do you and Paul wait there until I call. I’ll send you something to eat.”
The men touched their caps and led the ponies in the direction of the stable. Their mistress followed Eileen into the house.
Eileen lit the lamp hurriedly, and by its dim light saw that the stranger had ensconced herself in the big chair before the fire. She regarded her guest with lively curiosity, only restrained by the courtesy which forbids prying into the affairs of the casual guest. For she realized that she had missed feminine companionship since coming to the mountains, then sighed as she remembered how much she had missed it these late years. Mother, sister, chum—she had lost the love and companionship which comes to every normal girl. She felt very friendly toward this new-comer, then, and hoped that she might be staying near the claim. There were few tourists along the Wymore trail, as it was passable only for pony travel, but Harrington had told her that sometimes the managers
of the lumber or mining camps had their wives or sisters in over the pass during the summer vacations. This girl was no mountain tramp. Her clothes were of excellent cut and quality. She wore riding breeches and a long riding coat of fine khaki-colored cloth, small high shining riding boots, and a tan silk shirt.
THE stranger had removed her felt sailor hat and her coat, and now stood very slim and boyish before the fire, her feet apart and her hands lightly clasped behind her. She calmly scrutinized her hostess as she busied herself preparing a meal for the unexpected guests. Eileen was uncomfortable under this keen scrutiny, feeling that her new cotton gown was limp and soiled, and her shoes scuffed from walking over the rocks.
“What would you like for supper?” she inquired hospitably. “I can give you cold venison or canned vegetables and soups, and bread, but there isn’t much else.” “If you can make a good cup of tea, give me that, and some bread and butter. I am not very hungry. But you might make sandwiches for the men, and coffee, if you have it.”
Eileen cut sandwiches for the men from the good bread she had baked herself, and laid thick slices of the tender meat between. Having set her coffee on to boil, she carried a small table to the fireside and set out a meal for her guest. Then lighting the lantern, she took her sandwiches and a pail of coffee to the stable.
The two men had made themselves comfortable in the doorway of the stable with the hay and blankets. Behind
them the ponies stamped and munched their hay. There were six ponies, and Eileen thought that they must have carried a good deal of unnecessary duffel. Indeed, it made a large heap on the gangway of the stable.
' I 'HE men were very grateful for the food. More so, she thought, than their mistress. One of them, Francois, had the air and dress of the usual guide, but the second, called Paul, was an older man, stiff and formal in the dress of a liveried servant. But however dissimilar, they were on very good terms. They thanked the girl profusely and the guide inquired whereabouts he might get water for the ponies. She showed him the spring, and offered more blankets in case they stayed the night.
“Oh, yes, Mam’selle intended to stay here.” He would come to the house for the bedding now, and save her a second trip.
Eileen found him an armful of blankets and left him the lantern. Then she stood listening at the door until he had disappeared inside the stable. But there was no sound from the trail, and sighing, she returned indoors. It would have been so much easier if Harrington had been there.
The dark girl had finished her meagre meal and now sat staring into the fire. To her hostess’ inquiry as to whether she had finished, she said merely, “Yes, thanks,” and
returned to her study of the coals. Where she before had scrutinized Eileen, she now ignored her.
Somewhat puzzled by this conduct, Eileen cleared the table, but she did not eat her own supper. She would wait for Harrington, for she felt that she could not eat her meal in the presence of this scornful guest. She felt that she had been made a servant, and was expected to eat at second table. Her pride resented, though her commonsense told her that the hungry traveller had not waited for her return from the stable.
FEELING somewhat at a loss for something to say, Eileen picked up her sewing and sat down beside her
“Do you like travelling through the mountains?” she ventured.
The other girl roused herself.
“No, I hate it. I hate roughing it. I’m dusty and tired, and I’ve lived like a pig for two days now.”
“I forgot to offer you water to wash. I’m very sorry,” cried Eileen, horrified at her thoughtlessness.
“Don’t trouble yourself about it. I’d have asked for it, if I’d wanted it. My hands were cold and would have roughened, if I had washed them.”
“I’ll get you a lotion for your hands.”
She rose, rummaged in her bag for a small bottle of lotion, and brought it to the table. The stranger took it, thanked her, read the label on the bottle and set it down again, without offering to use it. Again Eileen had the impression of a slight offered. The medicine was coarse, greasy, perhaps, for dainty fingers, but she knew it was efficacious, and her act had been kindly. She returned to her sewing, determined that the stranger should take the initiative if she desired to be entertained.
The girl did so. Sitting up in her chair, with the air of one who has determined upon a fixed course, she asked abruptly:
“When do you expect Mr. Harrington to return?”
EILEEN was dumfounded. She had no idea that this girl knew Harrington or had the slightest interest in him. She had given no inkling of her reasons for coming to the cabin, and Eileen had naturally supposed her a traveler who, overtaken by night, had sought the first shelter. She had supposed the guide had turned off the main trail by mistake. But if this girl knew the prospector she had purposely come in this direction. The embarrassment which she had felt before the haughtiness of her guest now became suspicion. Determined to be on her guard, she answered warily:
“I expect him to return this evening.”
“Where has he gone?”
“To Wymore. Are you a friend of his?”
“Yes. I have known Dick Harrington for a long, long time. I was passing through, and I thought I would look him up.”
She paused and glanced at Eileen quizzically.
“I heard in Wymore that Dick was married. I presume you are Mrs. Harrington.”
The casual question smote Eileen to the heart. Had the old missionary escaped his almost fatal illness, she might have answered calmly in the affirmative. But now —this was what Harrington was so anxious to spare her. Desperately she would have answered that she was Mrs. Harrington, but the lie choked her. The crimson flushed throat and face, and she dropped her head.
But evidently the stranger took both actions as an acknowledgment. She went on:
“I congratulate you. I heard fine things about you, Mrs. Harrington, from the inhabitants of Wymore. All the men are in love with you. I couldn’t resist coming up here to make your acquaintance.”
“Very kind of you,” Eileen murmurdd. “Have you known my hus—Mr. Harrington long?”
“For a number of years. I presume your acquaintance with him has been long also?”
“I am afraid not. I haven’t known him very long.” “Indeed? Where did you meet him?”
“In—in Wymore. We were married there.”
The lie had got out at last. What further perjury she had committed herself to, she could not foretell.
“So I understand. You were a Miss Burton—Miss Mildred Burton?”
Eileen was too wretched and humiliated to reply. She almost hated this girl. Yet her questions were merely those an interested friend might ask. Naturally she would want to know whom her friend had married. She longed to ask her about Harrington, where he came from, what he did, to explain the mystery of the man. But she dared not. Her very ignorance would betray her.
“The old store-keeper, Bowden, is a great admirer of yours. It was from him that I got the information.”
“Yes, Mr. Bowden is an old friend of ours. And as you are a friend of Mr. Harrington’s, I hope you will stay with us for as long as you wish. You say you do not like the mountains, but I think we could make your stay pleasant, and amuse you.”
“I would be amused all right. But we’ll wait until Dick returns, and hear what he has to say about it.” Eileen thought that her guest now became more
friendly. Perhaps she, too, had been shy and embarrassed before a stranger. Yet she did not look like a woman whom a chance meeting would embarrass. The girl talked freely to her guest, telling her of the beauty of the district and tales of the inhabitants which Harrington had told her. It was the only entertainment she could offer, and the girl listened, with amused and contemptuous eyes.
But soon her guest wearied of this poor entertainment, and Eileen remembered that she had come a long way and the hour was late. She would offer her her cot for the night, and so end her own nervousness and her guest’s boredom.
“Perhaps you are tired,’’ she suggested, “I’ll get your bed ready if you wish.”
“Where are you going to put me for the night?” inquired the dark girl.
“I’ll give you my cot—over there,” pointing to the couch covered with an Indian blanket which did duty for the day. “And then I can hang the curtains from the cupboard about it, and you’ll have a room to yourself. I’ll make a shakedown for myself by the fire. It will be rough accommodation, but you will be at least comfortable and warm.”
“And what about Mr. Harrington?”
“Oh, he sleeps in the barn.”
“In the barn!”
“I meant—he could sleep there for to-night,” said Eileen quickly. To cover her embarrassment, she rose and began to prepare the cot. But the stranger called her back.
“Never mind about my bed now. Mrs. Harrington. If your husband is to return later, I shall wait until then. I don’t want to turn him out of his house. Sit down again; 1 want to talk to you.”
“Of course,” said Eileen, pleased that her guest had thawed at last. “I shall be very glad to do so. I was only afraid that you were tired and would wish to go to bed.” “Now what shall we talk about?” she added, seating herself in her former position. “I don’t think you are very much interested in our life here.”
“Oh, yes, I am, and that is what I want to talk about to you.”
' I 'HERE was a calm menace in the cold even tones that startled Eileen. She repented of her sudden friendliness, and half rose, intending to cut short so menacing an interview. Even before the girl spoke, she felt with startling intuition of fear that the dark shadow had followed her here, even into this sanctuary.
“Hadn’t you better come clean?”
“What!” cried the startled girl. “I don’t understand you.”
“I’m sorry. The phrase is unusual. But it is thieves’ dialect, and I used it because I supposed you would understand it better. If I must explain it for you, I mean that you had best tell me frankly what you are doing here and what you intend to do in the future.”
“You will have to explain yourself further,”, said Eileen. She would meet defeat no doubt, but it was well to die fighting. What right had this woman to question her? What did she know?
“I don’t see why I should, to you. If there is anything further to be explained, it is up to you to say who you are, and why you are here masquerading as the wife of Dick Harrington.”
“What reason have you to suppose that I am not his wife?”
“A very good one. I believe I have so far neglected to introduce myself to you. Let me make good that oversight on my part. My name is Mildred Burton.”
There was silence in the room. Eileen sat gazing into a darkness into which the familiar objects of the room were merged. Her hands lay limply on the cotton on her lap. A tiny trickle of blood ran from her finger where the needle had pierced it, but she did not feel it. Despair surged around her as the night wind now soughed about The cabin. Windows rattled as the bars closed about her again. She had no answer. The dark girl spoke again, jeeringly;
“Well, which of us is which? Are you me, or am I you? Will dear Richard know us apart, do you think? And who was it told the lie, you or he?”
“You are sulky, and that might distinguish us, for I never indulge in the sulks, or falsehood, either, though I have other bad faults. But come, I am waiting for my explanation. Did he so far forget my appearance that he mistook you for me, or did you persuade him that you were another person altogether?”
“I have no explanation to offer, for when one explains they are seeking to condone a fault and I dare not do that. I have lied to you—but what right have you to judge me? What do you know of suffering or despair? Were you
ever driven—driven—driven—until your brain reeled and your heart broke? You have always been sheltered, cared for, loved—do you know what it is to be thrust out on the world, without shelter or the means to procure it, to be hated and hunted? Suppose yourself in my position— if your mind is capable of such a supposition—suppose you were in an extremity and someone threw open the door of a sanctuary; suppose you were drowning, and someone reached out a hand to you—wouldn’t you go in?—wouldn’t you grasp that hand? Would you stop to question, to reckon the consequences or whether you had the right? Would you? You, to come here asking for explanations with your silly, sneering words. You have no right!”
“I have a right—”
“Then you threw it away! You sent him a telegram on his wedding day, saying that you had changed your mind. You wouldn’t marry him, no, you a rich woman with the world at your feet, you could play with the man you had promised to marry, make a fool of him before his friends. Will you explain that? What have yo», to say for yourself? It was your act that left the way open
for me to enter. I was at bay, with the hell-hounds at my heels. What chance or fate thrust on me, I leave for you to say. But do not blame me for taking your place. You should not have left it for me.”
pMLEEN had risen as she spoke. Gone were her fears / and her humility. Instinctively, though neither spoke the word, they knew each other for enemies. The age-old feud, stronger than hunger, second only to life-sex. Woman against woman for man; man against man for woman.
Woman against woman—and the battle not always to the strong, nor the race to the swift. Each knew the other loved the one man, and assembled their weapons for the contest. Being women, they might not fight with fist or steel, but with spiritual arms, keen wit, edged tongue, love and hate. And as always, the woman who loved the most would lose.
Mildred was for the moment silenced by her rival’s outburst. She had expected her to be easy prey. Perhaps she repented her folly in sending that telegram to Harrington. He had always been plastic in her hands. In truth, it was a mood of perverseness and romantic folly that had prompted her to torment him. She pictured him returning to his home disconsolately, and then, she and her attendants bursting in upon him, overwhelming him with the realization of her love and self-sacrifice. And it was in keeping with her egoistical mind that she blamed not her own folly, but the chance that had flung this woman, hunted, oppressed, and beautiful more than herself, into the arms of her lover at the moment when his pitying nature would make him susceptible to such an attack.
“I am not answerable to you for my acts. If I have not done the right thing in regard to Mr. Harrington, that is between him and me. You are an outsider in our affairs —an interloper. All I ask of you is that you take yourself back to where you came from, and never trouble us more.” “I don’t think you have any right to ask that of me.” “Right? What right have you? Why should you be considered? What rights has the unmarried woman in a case like this?”
“If you mean to infer that I have suffered any harm at Mr. Harrington’s hands—”
“I don’t. I know Dick better than that. He’s just the sentimental chivalrous fool that would look out for your reputation. What I want to know is, just how do you stand?”
“As I have told you. I was driven to bay—at his feet— why or how does not concern you. But he held out his hand to me and I grasped it, just as the waters closed over my head. Oh, you don’t know what it was to me to see that offer of help. But I swear to you that I really believed I was married to him—I was so dazed and tired that I didn’t think of the dissimilarity of names—only that if there was no means of escape, I could only die. We were half way here, to his home, before I discovered that I was not his wife. Then it was too late to go back.” “A pretty state of affairs,” remarked Miss Burton. “Why didn’t you leave at once, if you were so anxious about your good name?”
“Because to go on would not have helped me much. The hunt would have started again. And he, out of the goodness of his heart, offered to marry me. He sent a message to the clergyman who had performed the ceremony before, but he has been very ill and couldn’t come for a few weeks yet. So we were waiting—and now you have come.”
“In the nick of time, too, 1 should say. Come, Miss—I haven’t the honor of knowing your name.”
“It doesn’t matter in the least,” said Eileen, dully.
“Not for the present. But would you really have married him, a stranger, of whom you knew nothing?” “Yes, I would. At first from necessity to save myself, and more than myself. But now—” she raised her head bravely— “Now, I will marry him, because I love him.” “Yes, I love him.” She rose to her feet and Mildred looked at her pale resolute face with an awe new to her scoffing spirit. “You may say I am shameless to say so, but I don’t care who knows it. You and your petty conventions are nothing to me now. I tell you I can’t give him up to your say-so. You have everything; you a rich woman, and you are amusing yourself with a man, who though poor, is infinitely your superior in everything else. You have had a fine game with him, and enjoyed your laugh. Now go, and leave him to me, to whom he belongs.” “Were you ever on the stage?” remarked the dark girl, irrelevantly. “You do it rather well.”
HER shallow cynicism broke Eileen’s thin self-control.
“You wretched, heartless woman!” she cried. "You never loved anybody but yourself. You have never worked and struggled and suffered. You have been fed and dressed and amused like a baby. You are an empty husk. Don’t talk to me. 1 have only contempt for you.” At this outburst Mildred left her place on the hearthrug and sitting down at the table opposite Eileen, leaned on her elbows, stretching her slender white arms composedly before her. It was the pose of a master, not of a weakling, and Eileen waited for her.
“Listen to me,” she said. “You were right in that last indictment of me, except in one instance. I have loved, and if I must torment those I love more than my life, what is that to you? But I think you are under a wrong impression as regards Mr. Harrington. Have you any idea whom you are marrying?”
“None—except that I love him, and he is a good man.” “Wait a minute. I see Dick has left his knapsack here.” She rose and went to where the dusty brown sack lay in the corner where its owner had carelessly flung it.
“He carries his specimens in it,” said Eileen.
“Does he usually leave it lying carelessly about?”
“No—I haven’t noticed it—I never thought about it.” “You haven’t been thinking about much but yourself and how to get out of your own dilemma, most unselfish of women,” said Miss Burton, as she laid the knapsack on the table between them. “Now it happens that I know Dick better than you. In fact I have known him since we were children. I am going to show you the contents of this sack—his specimens as you call them.”
SHE unbuckled the straps, and pulled out the contents which were carefully wrapped in thin oilskin. The parcel exhaled a strange aromatic odor, familiar yet unrecognizable to Eileen. It was not a bulky bundle such as would contain the broken fragments of ore. W hat need to carry them so carefully?
Mechanically, uninterestedly, Eileen watched the stranger’s face, careless as to the contents of the parcel. What she wanted to find out was what power or right this woman would hold over the man whom she loved. It was a high, haughty face, but brave and reliant. Now it was disdainful and overconfident.
Yet how it changed! The girl was looking at what she held in her hands—an oblong board covered on one side with canvas. The disdain and confidence faded, and a look of bewilderment and of anger, changing to the bitterness of defeat, left her face gray and drawn. She thrust the object into Eileen’s hands, and turned abruptly away. “Take it. It’s yours'” she said.
It was a canvas, a picture, and from the painted square she saw her own face look out at her, life-like as in a mirror. The transparent whiteness of her face shone cameo-like against the background of dark pine-fronds.
Her hair hung in the loose braids which she wore when working about the camp; her eyes, wide-opened as she had looked every sunset at the light shining on the great mountain across the valley; from her backbent throat hung the blue of the cotton dress.
Eileen knew pictures. Her father had loved them and had taught her to know them. Here she saw the work of a master in the lifelike texture of her skin, the silky sheen of hair, the very fibre of the gentianblue cotton about her throat — someone had caught them with the brush of genius and transferred them to the square of canvas.
THE dark girl came back to her, and looked over her shoulder at the portrait.
“I thought you said you did not know—”
“Know?” said Eileen, wonderingly. “I never saw this canvas before. Who could have painted it? I never sat for a portrait.” “You did not know? Then he must have painted it from memory! You didn’t know—you are slow, all right. Did he look to you like an ordinary prospector, a common laborer with pick and shovel? Did you ever see him chip oft a single specimen of rock?” “But he knew the rocks, the trees—everything.”
“Of course he did. It’s his business to know them. Or rather his art. Look here in this corner. Now do you understand?”
Across the last curling strand of her hair, Eileen saw under the rosy rail the black-painted signature of the artist—R. Evan Harrington, ’23. She rose, her eyes dilated with wonder and fear.
“I suppose you are beginning to see light,” cried Mildred, scornfully. “Look here, if you want further proof.”
She snatched up an old magazine and rapidly turned its pages.
“See here—and here—”
There were photogravures of paintings of mountain scenery, and an appreciation of a great artist.
“Now, I’ll show you more. Come with me, stupid,” and she literally dragged her companion through the door.
As in a dream, Eileen followed her flying footsteps. They stumbled through the stable where the two servants were huddled under blankets in the straw. Mildred snatched up the lantern. Then she tried the door at the back of the stable. It was still locked. She fumbled impatiently among the nails where the harness hung and found a key. This girl knew the secret of the locked door.
Up the narrow dusty stairs where the white dazzle of the gasoline lantern lighted the way like a sun. The aromatic smell that the canvas had exhaled filled their nostrils. The beams of the lantern flooded the room with white light. Eileen understood at last. It was a studio.
This, then, was the mystery of t«e great windows which left the end of the studio open towards the valley. Had it been daylight she might have seen it spread before her in its minutest detail. In silence she turned away from the dark square of the windows to examine the interior. A paint-stained smock hung on a nail on the back of the door, another over a chair. Stands of tubes of paints, brushes, pallettes, strange-looking knives and pencils, rolls of canvas—the tools of an artist.
Mildred was unfastening the canvas covering of what was evidently an unfinished picture. When she had
uncovered it, Eileen thought that day had come, and she was looking out of the window at the valley. She stood speechless before it.
“Did you ever hear of the artist, Evan Harrington?' asked Mildred.
Eileen nodded. Her eyes were full of tears as she looked at the glory of the mountain she loved so well. She had heard of Evan Harrington.
“Every summer,” went on Mildred, in the even patient tones in which one explains to a stupid child, “he comes here to paint the mountains. Every winter he returns to Montreal, to his studios there. I wonder,” after a brief pause, “which will be the greater drag on him, your stupidity or my caprice? I am going back to the house now.”
EILEEN followed her, not knowing what else to do.
The glare of the lantern smote her eyes, dazzled and oppressed her. But inside the cabin she came into the warm loving world where she belonged.
Mildred had picked up the portrait.
“I have known him all my life—we are cousins and he drew pictures as soon as he could hold a pencil. No living artist can equal him in still, but he could never paint the human form. Now he has achieved it. You say he asked you to marry him. Has he ever said he loved you?”
“How like Dick! Here is your answer then. He must love you if he could paint that. I had thought that I was to be the inspiration that would give life to his dumb brush, but I have been forestalled. Tell me, are you going to marry him?”
“Yes, I amU’
“Do you really love him?”
“More than I can tell you.”
“Then how can you rrarry him? Think of it; he is on the threshold of the greatest achievement of his life. If he is unhampered he will be the greatest painter of his generation. He must move freely, from glory to glory. He is not to be tied down. You say you did not know he was other than what he appeared to you? That, too, was like him. How could he tell you when by the very telling he might take back from you the haven he had offered? Dick never goes back on his word. If you had gone at first as you should have done, all might have been well. But now. he loves you”—she pointed at the picture. “Oh, you helpless, gentle women! How you bind and tie. asking to be carried when you should stand on your own feet, growing pale and spiritual with brooding over your own woes when you should be brown and blowsy with the bearing of others' burdens!”
“If we love each other, what does anything else matter?” cried Eileen, halfconvinced by her rival’s rhetoric. “We agreed to marry, each knowing nothing of the other. We were to take each other on trust. I would have kept my word and stood by him, though he were a criminal.”
“And so he will by you, no doubt. But how can you ask him to do that for you? How can you? You don’t truly love him, or you could not ask such a sacrifice. You ask him to keep his word, to marry and protect you. And what of him? He, who should be in the first rank of his fellows, will be dragged down, despised, degraded, because of you!"
I KNOW who you are!” she cried, pointing an accusing finger at the shrinking girl. “I have seen you and heard your name bandied from mouth to mouth. I was in Vancouver last month and your
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face was as familiar as a billboard commodity. If Dick Harrington hadn’t been immersed in the art he loves, he would have known it too. But a beautiful woman in tears, and the wisest man is a fool. But he shan’t marry you without knowing what he is going to. For I will strip the truth before him and force him to behold it. You are planning to keep things quiet until he marries you, so that under another name you can escape from the just punishment of your crimes, and go about among honorable women once more. But I will tell him when he comes whom he has harbored—Eileen Howard, murderess and adultress!” “Don’t. It has been so long since I was called those terrible names.”
Mildred Burton looked in amazement at the quiet, dull-faced girl before her. As the terrible titles were spoken, some inward struggle wrenched the girl’s form,
as if all happiness and hope had taken their departure as the soul leaves the body. What stood before her was the corpse of a woman.
“You are right. I love him too well to ask him to bear my shame. I love him more than you do. That will have to satisfy me. But I thank you because you have shown me how much he loved me.”
She picked up the picture from the table. Holding it, she passed in review the hope that it signified for her; laying it down, she renounced that hope forever. And Mildred Burton, as she in turn took up the painted canvas, believed that she had snatched her almost lost happiness to her again. Looking up from her contemplation of the picture, she saw that the cabin was empty.
Eileen was gone.
To be Continued